Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Wednesday, January 12, 2022: Maximum Shelf: Woman Last Seen

Mira Books: Woman Last Seen by Adele Parks

Mira Books: Woman Last Seen by Adele Parks

Mira Books: Woman Last Seen by Adele Parks

Mira Books: Woman Last Seen by Adele Parks

Woman Last Seen

by Adele Parks

London, England. Two women, the same age. Both married. Both gone missing on the same day at the same time. The mind-blowing reason behind these similarities delivers emotional whiplash in Adele Parks's heart-pumping psychological thriller Woman Last Seen.

Somewhere, an unnamed woman awakens, chained to a radiator in an unfurnished room. Her screams for help are answered by "the distinct sound of the keystrokes of an old-fashioned typewriter being pounded. A sort of shuffling rat-tat-tat. Slow, precise. Like a hostile countdown." Then a sheet of paper is ripped from the carriage, and the typed message is shoved under the door: "I am not the villain here." Who is this woman, and who is her kidnapper?

Leigh and Mark Fletcher have been married for 10 years and enjoy a happy, working-class life raising their two teenage kids, Oli and Seb. Mark is a local landscaper and Leigh works as a business consultant. Her job takes her out of town every week from Monday morning to late Wednesday night. When Leigh doesn't show up on a Thursday, and Mark's repeated calls and texts to her go unanswered, he calls the police to report his wife missing, informing them that he and Leigh speak on the phone every day, regardless of her travel schedule.

The officers assigned to the case, Detective Constable Clements and Constable Tanner, ask if Mark checked in with Leigh's office. But Mark doesn't have the number or the name of the company; he only ever rings her cell phone. He has reached out to Leigh's close friend Fiona, but Fiona has no idea where Leigh might be. Mark admits that a quarrel with his wife the night before she left for work led to his sleeping on the couch, but swears it was the type of silly row common to most married couples. After getting a photo of Leigh, Clements and Tanner set out to investigate her disappearance, though with a grim feeling they might be searching for a body.

Back at the police station, Thursday appears to have become the day for missing wives--Clements catches a similar case: a man named Daan Janssen, who lives in an affluent neighborhood a few miles from the Fletchers, has reported his wife, Kai, missing. Leaving Tanner to work on the Fletcher case, Clements heads out to interview Janssen.

Kai Janssen makes regular, extended weekly visits to her ailing mother from Monday through Wednesday. Daan last saw his wife a week ago and last spoke with her three days after that. Daan tells Clements he thinks someone has Kai's phone and is pretending to be her via text. His calls to Kai have gone unanswered; they usually check in with each other daily when she's away. He did receive a clipped text from her: "Can't come home right now." Fearing something had gone horribly wrong with her mother, Daan tried calling, but only got Kai's voicemail. He texted asking if her mother's condition had gotten worse. Kai's response this time was one word: "Yes." This is unusual because Kai likes to talk, not send curt texts, and always returns Daan's calls. He doesn't have the name or number of the care home where Kai's mother lives, nor any contact information for his wife's friends. It hasn't been an issue because she's always reachable on her cell. Daan also admires his wife's independence.

Clements thinks Daan might be overreacting until he shows her a picture of his wife. It's a shocking revelation that changes everything, not just in the Janssen case but for the one involving the Fletchers as well.

From the hair-raising opening chapter of Woman Last Seen to the violent confrontation between a complicated protagonist and even more complex tormentor, Adele Parks takes readers on one scream-worthy ride. The metaphorical noose around the imprisoned woman is slowly tightened until it's almost hard for readers to breathe. The monsters in the story are humans whose diabolical actions are driven by bitter jealousy and the simple need to be loved and give love in return. Each character's motives feel almost justifiable. Mark's previous wife died from cancer, leaving him with two boys to raise and the desperate need for a replacement wife to help out. The gorgeous, successful Daan has grown weary of the countless clingy women he beds, but who unceasingly fail to challenge him. Each married a woman who fulfilled his respective needs and with whom he created a seemingly happy life.

Woman Last Seen contains very little violence; instead, Parks metes out a plethora of deep emotional cuts, reminding readers the best villains are ones the protagonists don't see coming. Sometimes the most unfathomable pain is doled out by people who profess the most love for their victims, and betrayal comes from one's closest confidantes. And sometimes innocents are caught in the crossfire. Not one of these characters remains unscathed. Adding to the cruelty, there are subtle mentions of a pandemic beginning to affect London that appears to be helping the villain get away with it all. Riveting from first page to last, this is one thriller crime fiction fans should not miss. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis

Mira, $16.99, trade paper, 384p., 9780778312048 , February 1, 2022

Mira Books: Woman Last Seen by Adele Parks

Adele Parks: Exploring Moral Outliers

(photo: Sekkides)

Adele Parks published her first novel in 2000; since then, her 20 bestsellers have been translated into 26 languages. Her new book, Woman Last Seen, will be published in the U.S. by Mira in February 2022. Parks lives in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, son and cat.

In the opening chapter of Woman Last Seen, a woman is chained up in a locked room. She hears typewriter keys, then a sheet of paper slides under the door bearing the words "I am not the villain here." Why use a typewriter?

A typewriter, for this scene, is essential for a number of reasons. Firstly, as a plot point: I needed the captor and captive to be able to connect in an anonymous way. Handwriting is very distinctive and recognizable, as are voices, so neither of those methods worked as a form of communication. I don't reveal who is holding the woman prisoner until the very last chapter, so I needed to maintain the secrecy and not give any clues to the reader or to the woman held captive. Besides concealing the identity of the perpetrator of the abduction, there is something incredibly sinister about the fact that a typewriter is being used. It being at the scene of the crime suggests a degree of preplanning; this abduction isn't a spontaneous matter. That's incredibly chilling for the woman chained to the radiator and--I hope--to the reader. It's also an important fact that the message on the paper is cryptic. I wanted the reader to ask, "How can you say that?" "Who are you?" "If I believe you, then who is the villain in this case?" So, yes, the typewriter is integral.

One of your characters is a bigamist. Did you interview any bigamists for this book? Did the person(s) change your perception of a bigamist?

I did a lot of research on bigamists before I started to write this book. It was important to me to understand not only the mechanics behind bigamy--for example, what sort of lies do bigamists tell to allow them to run a double life--but it was also vital to me to understand the psychology behind a bigamist's decision-making process. The question I repeatedly asked was, "Why not just have an affair?" There was a variety of responses to this, ranging from "I loved her so much I wanted to make her my wife" to "I needed the money" to a dismissive or confused shrug! It was fascinating to see what a low level of self-awareness some of these people had. It was also interesting to meet people who simply view the world in a different way. Some justified their actions; others were anarchic or amoral. Besides the research I did into bigamists, I also interviewed the victims of bigamy so that I could understand the emotional fallout of this crime.

Betrayal is a central theme in the book. Which would you find the least tolerable: betrayal by a close friend, by a relative or by a spouse/lover?

Well, none of them are great! Sadly, I, like probably every adult, have encountered betrayal in my life. Luckily not to the extent my characters had to deal with! People are complex; we are often needy, greedy or insecure. Betrayal can be a result of any of those things and an unlimited number of other things: revenge, jealousy, weakness, avarice. The betrayal of a spouse is often the most devastating because, besides the emotional implications, there are usually financial and legal repercussions to that form of betrayal. Personally, I think a parent betraying their child is the most profoundly devastating. It's unnatural.

You use the pandemic as a quietly ticking time bomb that increases tension and urgency. What made you choose to incorporate it into the story?

I had written at least half of this novel before the pandemic took hold and before we were in lockdown. However, once we were all locked down, my perspective shifted a little. I started to feel helpless, trapped and isolated. I think many people can relate to that! I decided the only healthy thing I personally could do with those emotions was channel it into my work. That particular week in history, when we knew something was coming but not what exactly (the week we were warned we would be locked down but hadn't yet been so) was an enormous ticking time bomb that we were all living through in real time. It was so intense. This was a monumental week in history and the collective psychology of humanity. How could I ignore that?

If this novel gets a screen adaptation, do you see it as a TV series or a feature film?

The extremely exciting news is that there is an option on Woman Last Seen and it is currently being adapted as a movie. I think this is the right decision, as all the action takes place within a week and most of it is in a confined space. I believe that in this novel there's the right amount of action to translate into about 90 minutes of screen time. It's an incredible procedure, the book-to-screen creative process, and I am learning a lot. Cross your fingers for me that you see it on screen one day.

Woman Last Seen is riveting from beginning to end. What are the odds of you writing a sequel?

Thank you so much for saying so! I think the odds of my writing a sequel are quite high! Perhaps as high as an 80% chance. This book has already launched in the U.K. and there has been an incredibly strong demand for a sequel from readers there. The demand has been more intense than with any of the other 20 novels I have written. Often, when I finish a novel, I'm desperate to leave the characters behind; I'm exhausted by them. In this case, my curiosity about the characters is still intense. I have drafted a sequel in my mind, so watch this space. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis

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